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The ‘Why not me?’ race for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016

A herd of elephants. Get it? Ishara S.KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images

If there's one think you can say about the 2016 Republican presidential field, it is this: It is going to be HUGE.

There are currently 23 names on the long, long list of potential candidates. That's twice (!) as many people as have ever run for the GOP nomination in the past. Now, not all of those "candidates" will actually run -- Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker and Rep. Marsha Blackburn don't make much sense as presidential candidates, to name just two -- but that's a huge field of prospective candidates.

And while all two dozen names being mentioned won't make the race, the fact that so many credible candidates are actively looking at running speaks to the key dynamic of the coming Republican race: There is no true frontrunner.

Given that, the prevailing sentiment among ambitious Republicans looking at 2016 is, "Why not me?" As in, if the best-known candidates are only polling the in the mid-teens (at best), why the heck shouldn't I run and just see what happens? That attitude is affirmed by what happened in the 2012 primary fight, a remarkably fluid contest that saw previously unknown candidates like Herman Cain get their moment(s) in the national spotlight. It's also buoyed by the recent trend of people running for president not necessarily to win but to improve their future earning prospects.

Add it all up and you can expect to see somewhere as many as 12-15 legitimate candidates in the presidential contest at some point during the next two years.

Below are our rankings of the 10 with the best chance of winding up as the nominee. The No. 1-ranked candidates is the most likely winner.

To the line!

10. Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.): The 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee is on this list because he would be a frontrunner the moment he got in. But Ryan also seems entirely happy to continue serving in the House. He just traded in his House Budget Committee chairmanship for the even-more-powerful Ways and Means Committee, which gives him ample reason to stick around. Remember that Ryan is only 44 years old, meaning he could easily wait a presidential cycle or even two before going national (again). (Previous ranking: 10)

9. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee: On the one hand, there are national and early-state polls that show Huckabee is among the best-known and best-liked politicians considering the 2016 contest. On the other hand, Huckabee seems no more committed to building a real campaign infrastructure or raising money than he was in 2008, when his inability to do either made it impossible for him to capitalize on the momentum gained from his win in the Iowa caucuses. Huckabee is a very talented pol. But not learning the lessons of a past loss is the hallmark of someone who will lose again. (Previous ranking: 7)

8. Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas): Cruz is, and will continue to be, the most conservative candidate in the field. He is also the frontrunner to be the candidate that all of the other candidates privately -- and maybe even publicly -- detest. Cruz, of course, relishes that role, believing that it affirms just how much of an outsider he is to the political process. He will likely have a devoted and committed 10-15 percent in a place like Iowa; the question is whether he can grow beyond that loyal following or whether he is Michele Bachmann 2.0. (Previous ranking: 8)

7. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal: BuzzFeed's Rosie Gray reported Thursday that Jindal has enlisted former senator Jim Talent (R-Mo.) and former ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton to advise him on foreign policy. That's the move of someone who is preparing to run for president. But with Jindal, that was never really in doubt -- especially since he is termed out as governor in early 2016. This guy has oodles of potential, but he needs polish and some more personality. (Previous ranking: 9)

6. Ohio Gov. John Kasich: Kasich continues to do the best thing he can for his 2016 prospects: Insist he isn't all that interested in running. Don't believe him. As we've said before, the best indicator of running for president in the future is having run for president in the past. And Kasich ran, albeit briefly, for president in 2000. A two-term governor -- he won almost two-thirds of the vote this fall, in part because his opponent imploded -- of a swing state with a specialty in the economy (like Ryan, he chaired the Budget Committee) is a pretty compelling resume even in this very crowded field. (Previous ranking: 6)

5. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker: Well, he survived. Walker won his third gubernatorial election in four years last month, defeating Democrat Mary Burke by five points in what had been polling as a very close race. The question now is whether Walker wants to jump right back on to the campaign trail after tough races in 2010 and 2014 and a recall in 2012. That's a lot to ask. But winning a blue-leaning state three times in a row makes Walker a hot commodity, and he might not have as good a chance any time soon. (Previous ranking: 4)

4. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio: Rubio is like a really talented college basketball player who goes pro after his freshman year. Everyone knows he has the ability, but it's not clear whether he can put it all together in the near term. Rubio is the most naturally talented candidate this side of Chris Christie, but he's also young and relatively inexperienced in politics at the national level. Ability tends to trump experience in presidential contests (see: Obama, Barack) so our guess is Rubio, who runs unless Jeb does, will over-perform current expectations. (Previous ranking: 2)

3. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush: Bush offered some very interesting comments this week, saying Republicans need candidates who are willing to "lose the primary to win the general, without violating your principles.” That's a nice sentiment, and few embody that approach better than Bush. But there's a reason politicians pander: because they don't like to alienate people whose votes (and money) they need. If Bush does indeed run in the primary as an unapologetic supporter of comprehensive immigration reform and Common Core, we'll see whether GOP voters reward his electability argument. Count us skeptical. (Previous ranking: 1)

2. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie: Few people emerged from November's election happier than Christie. As the chairman of the Republican Governors Association, it was looking like a tough year -- even up to Election Day. But the RGA beat expectations, even picking up three governor's seats in the process and taking 32 31 of the nation's 50 states. The biggest wins were in blue states like Illinois, Maine, Maryland and Massachusetts. And, on Friday, Christie got even more good news when a Democratic-led investigation into Bridgegate showed no evidence he knew about the lane closures on the George Washington Bridge. (Previous ranking: 5)

1. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul: People used to roll their eyes when we said Paul had a real chance to be the Republican nominee in 2016. No one rolls their eyes anymore. Paul has a unique activist and fundraising base thanks to his dad's two runs for president, and has shown considerable savvy in his outreach efforts to the establishment end of the party over the past few years. Paul still says odd things -- his blaming of high cigarette taxes for Eric Garner's death being the latest -- that are going to get him in trouble in the heat of a presidential race. But, Paul is the candidate furthest along in the planning process for president and the one with the most current strength in early states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. (Previous ranking: 3)